Don’t be held back by keeping your mouth shut – speak up!

By Jon lam, Toastmasters International

Do you wince when you remember past events such as a project presentation day at school?  One occasion still lingers in my memory. Everyone, except for me, had given their presentation. I held my breath and ducked down behind my classmates, praying that our teacher would not be called on me to speak…

As a shy person, I have never felt a real need to open my mouth (aside from eating). But after missing out on countless opportunities in my personal and professional life by keeping my mouth shut, I realised that I needed to start opening it more.

One way I discovered to help with improving my communication skills is to take the leap of faith into the world of public speaking.  Are you a reluctant speaker? If so read on to find out how you can avoid the regrets that follow from not speaking up.

Not being seen as a leader

It is common knowledge that by not speaking out at work, you can miss out on career advancement opportunities. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, emphasises this by noting that despite often delivery better results introverts can be overlooked as they are not considered “leadership material”.

Although exceptional “introvert” leaders such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk exist, they have all communicated their ideas and values to the world and have led their workforce by speaking publicly. Hence, there is a strong case to develop your public speaking skills to get your peers to respond to and be inspired by your ideas. This in turn will help you to establish more credibility and open yourself up to more career advancement opportunities.

It is no wonder why Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group stresses that “communication is the most important skill any leader can possess.”

Practice is key here so even if you feel apprehensive to take on a speaking or presentation opportunity at work, you should bite the bullet and go for it as you will not only establish credibility in the workplace but also find it easier to speak publicly with the practice. 

Not connecting with others

Finding common ground with others is often a crucial step taken when trying to build strong connections and make friends. Unless you meet someone who is telepathic, you’ll most likely have to tell them of your interests and ideas. This is where public speaking comes in. I remember harnessing skills such as voice projection and good body language before raising my hand to talk at events. And after sharing my ideas and stories at these events, I opened opportunities for like-minded attendees to approach me and discuss the ideas. This has led to countless new friends, I otherwise would not have made if I were not brave enough to speak up at events and share my ideas in an engaging way.

It is good to keep in mind that when speaking at any event, it is essential that you try to understand your audience and use effective techniques such as humour, if appropriate, to share your ideas. These techniques can be learned and if you put in the effort to do so, you will increase the chances of creating new connections with others who resonate with your engaging ideas.

Being unheard

During such turbulent times, it is easy for your voice to get lost in the noise. As a Chinese person, I grew up in a culture where it was more important to ‘save face’ and maintain harmony than to speak out. However, whilst growing up, I realised that by staying silent, one will always remain unheard. With more and more environmental and social issues brought to light nowadays, it is important to first get educated, and then speak up about what you believe in. Only this will help bring about a better change.

Once you take that first step of speaking up, you need to consider how you communicate your values. The ‘how’ really matters. For example, are you talking to the right audience or are you preaching to the converted? Are your ideas easy for everyone to understand or are you going off on tangents? These are areas that public speaking practise can help you improve so you can be confident and effective. 

I learned that if I need make some change or continue to miss out on many opportunities in life. Now is the time to step out of your comfort zone and try something different.


Jon Lam is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit

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